Lurking in the tech channel shadows are the various manifestations of the newly emerging e-channel: online application stores, online communities, group buying sites, and e-purchasing services. For example, the number of small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) that sourced software products from online application stores increased almost 40% from 2009 to 2010. (I’ll publish the 2011 channel numbers next quarter.)
Joining the application store ranks of Intuit Marktplace, NetSuite SuiteApp.com, and salesforce.com AppExchange this year have been Adobe Marketplace, Cisco AppHQ, Constant Contact Marketplace, Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace, and Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace. Online communities OfficeArrow, OpenForum, and Spiceworks now offer software products. You could imagine e-purchasing services, like Rearden Commerce and Concur, expanding their travel services domain to other B2B products and services (like software). And this is just the tip of the iceberg – believe me, there are a lot more tech vendors and communities that will launch e-channels in the next six months.
All this e-channel activity, from both the provider and customer sides, has got to toll a warning bell for traditional channel companies – and their vendor partners, who have to keep them appeased. Perhaps most vulnerable are the DMRs (direct market resellers) (although the DMR gorilla, CDW, is taking strategic steps to expand its services portfolio in becoming more of a solutions provider).
I’ll be researching the impact of this emerging e-channel further, so if you have ideas or perspective to help guide my research, please share.
The customer experience for companies doing business with other companies stinks. Three independent studies that Forrester Research has conducted over the past year indicate that the business-to-business (B2B) experience is perceived as worse than that in the bottom-of-the-barrel consumer industries such as TV service providers and health insurance plans in Forrester’s 2011 Customer Experience Index. This is not surprising for several reasons. Many B2B firms believe that customer experience is something that only consumer-focused firms like Disney, Zappos, and Ritz Carlton need to consider. Moreover, many B2B companies argue that purchasing decisions are made for a complex set of reasons other than customer experience. Finally, they often say that because of the relatively low number of accounts, they already provide a personalized experience through account management teams.